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Magical bears in the con.., p.11
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       Magical Bears in the Context of Contemporary Political Theory, p.11

           Jenna Katerin Moran
 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
No Actual Bears Were Harmed

  in the Assembling of this Short Story Collection

  Dentist 10 lives behind glass and steel.

  One morning he wakes up and finds himself out on the glacier. He’s been sleeping inside the skin and fat of a polar bear that he’d had to kill.

  “Dangerous,” he says.

  He shakes his head at himself. He must have passed out, he thinks—too tired to drag the body back to his tower, so he’d just cut it open and crawled inside.

  “Dangerous and stupid.”

  He pulls himself out. The corpse is still warm, but it’s colder than it was. He heaves one great paw over his shoulder. He drags the bear to his tower.

  The tower is glass and steel.

  Dentist 10 looks nervously up at the sun. It’s been shining for almost six months but it looks like it’s beginning to set. That’s why he had to go out onto the ice and get a stock of meat but it also makes the danger more acute.

  He enters his code into the tower doorway.

  Perched atop an arch of ice, clad in an adorable white parka, Jane watches him. She is looking at him through special field glasses that make everything look red and provide scrolling data regarding various points of interest.

  “Don’t forget to wear layers,” scrolls past on the left.

  Stock data displays on a running marquee.

  One scrolling reminder informs her, “Nine out of ten dentists endorse the continued existence of the world!”

  Dentist 10 finishes entering the code. His fingers, slick with polar bear blood, leave smears on the numbered panel.

  The door opens.

  Dentist 10 drags the polar bear into the lobby of his tower. He deposits it into the autokitchen. He walks through the sterilizing shower, stripping as he goes, leaving his filthy blood-colored lab coat behind, passing through sprays of water, chemicals, and soap, and emerging on the other side dressed again and pulling on a fresh white coat.

  He pushes a button behind him. It sets his shower to KILL.

  Then he enters an elevator and begins to rise through the beanstalk of his home towards a cold space fortress suspended over the world.

  Behind him, Jane is in the lobby. She’s staring at the shower from the other side. It’s got blinking red lights and looks about as malicious as a shower can.

  She speaks into her lapel.

  “Cut power to the first floor,” she says.

  Elsewhere, Martin operates a fuse. The shower goes dark.

  Dentist 10 looks down as he ascends. He frowns. There’s a spot of darkness below that should be red.

  He grits his perfect teeth.

  “Susan?” he says.

  The computer that governs his home comes online. A simulation of Majel Roddenberry’s voice says, “Yes, Dentist?”

  “We have an intruder,” he says. “Flood the lower floor with Fimbulwinter.”

  “Yes, Dentist.”

  Jane is standing at the base of the elevator. She is prying open the doors with a Fisher-Price Jaws of Life set. Then a radio-triggered explosive bursts open the lobby’s outer door and windows. Hydraulic pumps, their power subsystem pre-isolated, dredge up icy water from the sea, add a fine mix of chemicals to accelerate their icing, and spray them in a large-dropped mist throughout the bottom floor. The building ventilators pump away the heat. The air fills with shards of ice.

  Jane squeaks. She wraps her scarf across her face. She pulls her hood over her head. She attempts to squeeze into the elevator through the partly-opened doors despite the bulging awkwardness of her layered clothing and the wash of ice. For a long moment she is stuck, as the air lashes her with winter. Then with a pop she falls through and into the base of the elevator shaft.

  She kicks out the jaws of life. The doors slam closed.

  She begins to climb.

  Dentist 10 arrives at his space fortress. He walks out into the entrance bay. He considers. Then he decides that it is better to be safe than sorry.

  He takes down his shotgun from the wall.

  He sits down.

  He waits to kill, just in case the intruder makes it up.

  When Jane forces open the elevator doors, he fires.

  There is a flurry of red-tipped parka down. The body falls backwards. The doors fall closed.

  Dentist 10 approaches.

  He pushes the button. The elevator door opens. He walks in. He kneels by the body. He checks its teeth for signs of life. He frowns.

  “It’s a Fisher-Price Body Double Playset,” says Jane from behind him. “Suitable for operatives and medical students ages five and up.”

  “It’s very realistic,” says Dentist 10.

  He doesn’t turn around.

  “But nobody has teeth like these.”

  “No,” Jane agrees. “And nobody ever will again.”

  He spins. He fires. But he isn’t expecting Jane to be quite so short or quite so close, and he definitely isn’t expecting the sharkbone-tipped spear with which she knocks his shotgun away. She hooks out his leg with the haft and as he staggers, she goes PUSH!

  Dentist 10 slumps, defeated.

  “Pushing people is impolite,” he says.

  “That’s pre-9/11 thinking,” says Jane.

  “10 is pre-11,” Dentist 10 points out.

  “But it’s not pre-9!”

  There’s a pause.

  Jane gives Dentist 10 a strained, apologetic smile.

  Dentist 10 looks away.

  “Listen,” says Jane. “Somebody shot Baldur with mistletoe.”

  “I know,” says Dentist 10. “I saw. Winter is coming.”

  “So I need 10 out of 10 dentists to approve of him, or Hel won’t let him live.”

  Dentist 10 looks out through the glass elevator wall at the endless depths of space.

  “I had a wife,” he says. “Her name was Nora. And I never approved of her while she lived. I thought that she was weak and she was trivial. Then one day after she died, I realized that that wasn’t actually why I had disapproved of her. It hadn’t been anything to do with her. She wasn’t weak or trivial or bad at all. It was just that it was easier for me to live my life if I could judge people according to my preferences for their character.”

  “That’s very tragic,” Jane concurs.

  “So I promised myself,” says Dentist 10, “in her name, that I would never approve of anything ever again. Not Trident. Not Crest. Not even peace. And I won’t approve of Baldur, even if that ends the world. That is my resolution.”

  “Oh,” says Jane.

  “People were always troubling me for their approval,” says Dentist 10. “Because I am Dentist 10. So I moved to the arctic and built a beanstalk into space. Ever since then there have never been more than 9 out of 10 dentists approving of anything.”

  “But Baldur fights tooth decay,” says Jane.

  Dentist 10 shudders.

  “And he’s a deadly enemy to plaque!”

  Dentist 10 looks up. His eyes are haunted. “Don’t do this,” he says.

  Jane hesitates.

  “What kind of dentist lives in space and seals his heart in ice?” she asks.

  “The tenth,” he says.

  So Jane turns away. She follows his gaze into space.

  “No,” she says.

  “No?”

  “To live in the sky and give your love to no one— to cover yourself in the blood of a bear and greet visiting children with winter— to fire a shotgun at a glass elevator wall and to do no harm— this is not dentistry. This is death.”

  And he crawls out into his space station and he stares after her; the elevator doors close, and she descends, and he stares after her, stripped by her clarity from his role as Dentist 10.

  She is right, he knows.

  He isn’t a dentist at all.

  He is Space Hermit 1, one out of one, and he does not approve.

  No Crutches for an Angel

  The angel cannot see and cannot hear.

  So he imagines forests.
<
br />   The sun is hot and sometimes he tastes sand. But he imagines forests and talking animals. In the evening when he is thirsty he imagines that there is a river blue and clear. In the mornings he thinks that there is a pillow made of loam.

  In his heart there is a drumming.

  It drums because it is a warning. It drums because he will bring devastation. It drums the vengeance of the Lord.

  It will burn the things around him.

  It will burn with a terrible fire, unless he finds ten just and good and wholly righteous men.

  “I think,” says a sloth, that is hanging from a tree, which the angel now imagines, “that you have already released this fire. For look, the sun is hot, and all around you there is sand.”

  “Sometimes,” the angel says—

  Though he cannot say much, as his tongue has melted to the bottom of his mouth—

  “Sometimes I brush up against what seem like buildings, or I am pelleted with bullets. So I do not think that this is so.”

  The answer is as haughty as a Queen’s.

  “We sloths, we disagree.”

  The angel stumbles on.

  It is late, and he is tired, and it is hard to hold back the fire that lurks behind the drumbeat in his heart, when he meets Mikhael.

  That is the name he gives the man.

  He does not know the true name for the man because he cannot hear and he cannot see and he cannot speak. This is something that makes introductions difficult, particularly when you do not share a common tongue.

  So he names the man Mikhael.

  He says, “I feel you. I feel you in my heart.”

  He is seized up. People grab his arms. Something goes over his head. He is pulled and he is dragged and his feet leave the ground.

  Tum-dum, goes his heart.

  Tum-dum.

  He flares his great feathered wings. He makes a choked-off sound. He gargles.

  But because he can feel Mikhael near him, still, his heart retains some element of peace. He is frustrated. He is disoriented. He is angry and confused.

  He is not enraged.

  Something slides into his arm, metal in a vein, and time becomes a whirl.

  “I can feel you,” he says.

  He is groping through a fever and looking for the sensation that had told him that Mikhael was near.

  “Ha,” laughs a duck. “You are an angel deaf and blind. What makes you think you are ever anything but alone?”

  The sensation is distant. But he clings to it.

  His heart still beats: tum-dum.

  He is treated roughly. His wrists are sore.

  Then he feels a mouth against his cheek. It is whispering to him through the vibration of his bones. It is too hard to hear but because his heart feels Mikhael he makes sense of certain words.

  “You fell to earth,” says Mikhael. “And you were deaf and you were blind. And it is sad, because that makes it difficult to find a righteous man.”

  “You have no idea,” says the angel.

  It has a lot more humor and joy than something like that should have—gallows humor, but still this explosion of mirth in him, that someone would see that hidden pain and then think that perhaps the angel might not already be aware.

  “You were captured,” says Mikhael. “Studied. It was decided that you should be turned loose against strategic targets. That you would wander here, in our homeland, until you failed to find ten righteous men. Then our land would be destroyed.”

  “Ha,” says the angel.

  He makes moaning, mumbling noises with his mouth. But what his heart says is, “You have no idea. You are making this about you. You are forgetting that I am laboring with every moment of my life not to hurt you but I am suffering myself.”

  “You have been captured,” says Mikhael. “You have been bound. My people, they thought at first that they could contain you in this fashion.”

  He makes an apology with his next words.

  “I told them how to find you. I told them you were here.”

  “Mikhael,” says the angel. “Will you bring me righteous men?”

  “I am afraid,” says Mikhael, “that they have all been slain. There were never very many. There are children still, and dogs and cats, who are not unworthy. And they were indifferently incomplete in eliminating the women; three righteous such remain. But if it is only men whose hearts will serve then there are none; and if infants are excluded, then we can muster only eight. The rest are dead. They have been slain.”

  The angel frowns.

  “They have been slain,” he repeats.

  “They were hunted for their righteousness,” says Mikhael. “It was elementary. There would be no point to send you here only to allow some incompetent discovery of ten righteous men to stop the fall of Heaven’s wrath.”

  “Oh,” says the angel.

  He turns his thoughts inwards for a time. He is thinking that perhaps Mikhael is righteous and that perhaps Mikhael is not. It is difficult to tell from the rough voice against his cheek and the tremor in his heart.

  “Then you must hold me deep,” says the angel, “deep beneath the earth, deep in some far and isolated place, where the Heavens may rumble and the earth may crack but lives shall not be lost. Let the skies burn out their outrage against a nothing target and then all shall be well. —Or kill me.”

  “I cannot do these things,” says Mikhael.

  “But you must.”

  “I have told them,” says Mikhael, “that you are an angel, and that we must therefore let you go. I have argued long and hard and finally I have won out. They fear me because I understand their hearts and they do not dare to go against this wisdom. They will hate me, of course. One day they will probably kill me out of fear. But while they let me live they listen to my voice and so they will let you go.”

  “There are none?” asks the angel. His voice is a plea.

  “The standards of an angel—” says Mikhael. “They are not like ordinary men.

  “I tell you,” he continues, “there are darknesses in every human heart. There are weaknesses and follies. They are not righteous. Save sometimes I would meet one of they who moved among us—frightening, inhuman, perfect, clear. They were the opposite of monsters, antipaths to devils that walked among us men. They shone and they frightened me and I thought that most likely they were as unworthy to live among us as we to live with them. They were obvious to those like me. They were obvious and easy targets and one by one their lives went out.

  “They welcomed it, I think,” Mikhael says. “These are hard times to live in, for a righteous man.”

  “O,” cries the angel.

  The bonds are stripped roughly from his wrists. He is dragged somewhere. He stumbles and he twists his leg but still they drag him on.

  He feels the presence of a door.

  “But I must kill you all,” says the angel, “if I find no righteous men.”

  He falls onto the street outside. It is rough beneath his hands. He feels Mikhael go.

  He feels Mikhael go.

  It comes to him softly there that if he is deaf and blind he must decide the presence or absence of righteous men upon his own; that the world, it cannot tell him, whether the angel now must act.

  But he does not understand.

  He does not see.

  He does not understand how it is Mikhael let him go.

  The Division

  It is the beginning of time, and all the animals are lined up before the Presence to receive their special gifts.

  “Weasels,” says the Voice. “You shall receive the backing of a strange, mystical organization that may or may not have the best interests of the world at heart.”

  The weasels scamper with joy. Then they scurry off to the secret underground base. They show their ID. They are escorted inside. There, the grand weasel glares down at them. He intends to wring every drop of performance from them. Their youthful idealism is simply grease for the gears.

  “Prairie dogs,” says the Voice.
“You shall receive the ability to transform from your normal, ordinary clothing into special fuku by barking.”

  The prairie dogs peek up from their holes. Then they sink back down. It’s so embarrassing! Why couldn’t the Voice have chosen someone else for this socially awkward destiny?

  “Elephants,” the Presence thunders. “You shall be stalked by a mysterious bishounen. He may be your lover, or he may be your greatest enemy.”

  The elephants pragmatically consider this. One trumpets. Elephants don’t really like losing their head over mysterious bishounen. Then suddenly he appears. He has a swirly cape. He has a mask. He’s stunningly cute. All reservation is lost. Little hearts appear in the eyes of all the elephants. They toss their heads and trample one another in an attempt to get to him. Then, just as suddenly, he’s gone.

  “Rabbits,” says the Voice. “You shall receive the ability to combine into a giant super-rabbit. One of you can form the head. Four of you, the legs. Optionally, you may combine with a sixth rabbit for reproductive purposes.”

  The rabbits twitch their noses thoughtfully. That’s a useful power.

  “Amoebae,” murmurs the Presence. “You shall go to special boarding schools, where each of you shall have a harem of adoring aliens.”

  The amoebae wriggle with glee. Then, one by one, they realize that they reproduce asexually. This diminishes their anticipation.

  “Leeches,” the Voice asserts. “You shall be secretive and romantic vampires, drinking the blood of humanity. No one shall understand your pain.”

  The leeches sink below the surface of the water, dodging the terrible rays of the sun.

  The Voice drones on, and to each their gifts; and one to each and all the animal kinds; and if you ever find yourself wondering, “Where in the world did magical bears embodying transgression, alienation, and sexual forthrightness even come from?” well now you probably know.

  It gives its gifts, one to each and all of the animal kinds, save only people, who hid from the shadow of the Presence and received no gift at all.

  “It would have just been something perverted,” people mutter, but that’s really just sour grapes.

  Flood

  The antelope race beside the Ark.

  The waters are glassy, sometimes, when the rain slows down. They are rich in color. The hoofprints of the antelope are like the dents of great raindrops.

  The antelope have wide feet and a powerful light foot technique. For seventeen days they keep their balance on the water. Yet slowly, as the days pass, they sink deeper and deeper into the shining waters until at last they drown.

  “There’s no room for the hippos,” Ham says. “We’ll have to eat them.”

  “No eating the hippos,” says Noah.

  “But Dad!”

  Noah considers. “There are those birds,” he says, “that fly into your urethra when you’re peeing and nest inside your crotch. We could eat those.”

  Ham considers that.

  “Okay,” he says.

  The seven-limbed howlers struggle upwards from the cities below. They flail. They howl. They reach the surface and fill their great and terrible lungs with air. Then they sink, again, slowly, pathetically, and hoard their energy for the next long breath.

  The eagles circle tiredly in the sky above.

  Shem and Ham descend into the Ark.

  The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Shem believes, the density of packed animals becomes asymptotically infinite. But they do not need to go that far.

  “Good sheep,” says Shem, passing a sheep.

  “Good cow,” says Ham, passing the cows.

  “Good crocodi—BAD crocodile!” says Shem. Shem brandishes his broom at the crocodile. It reluctantly turns away and snaps its mouth closed. It slithers deeper, slithers down, its long green body vanishing under a cluster of chickens, wrens, doves, owls, game hens, and wildebeests, and it is gone.

  “Good hippo,” says Ham, grudgingly, as they pass.

  The urethra birds are not very far down. They are good at gaming the ecosystem for maximum advantage. But it does not save them now.

  “Bawk!” proclaims one urethra bird, startled, as Ham grabs it around the neck.

  “Ch-caa!” declares the other, in some distress, as Shem seizes it in turn.

  The axe descends.

  “It’s natural selection,” says Noah, as he chews on a leg. “Those that do not please me, die. Evolutionary pressure driven by the seething core of the Ark will inevitably create a new generation of animals better suited to the exigencies of my desires.”

  Days and nights pass.

  In the third and fourth weeks, great clusters of ostriches swim by.

  The ostriches are not happy with the rain. United, they are strong. Solitary, they are weak. But the world-flooding tries their solidarity.

  One by one, the ostriches commit social errors.

  One by one, the clusters drive them out.

  The stragglers are easy prey for the sharks, the icthyocampi, and the cold.

  “I wonder if Mr. Sills is still alive,” Shem says.

  “He’s got to have drowned by now,” Noah argues.

  “I know some of them were trying to build cities in the deep,” Shem says.

  Ham walks out and stares down at the water.

  “It’s weird,” says Ham. “To imagine all the people we knew, down there.”

  “Freaky,” Japheth agrees.

  “Cold and blue and drowning.”

  “It’s because God didn’t like them,” says Shem. “I mean, as much as he liked us.”

  The sheep goes, “Baa.”

  “Animal on deck!” says Noah.

  They quickly hurry the sheep back into the hold.

  “Can we eat the sheep?” Ham asks.

  “No,” says Noah. “Sheep are good animals. That’s why it made it all the way up.”

  “The hippos?”

  “No eating the hippos.”

  “But Dad!”

  Noah considers. “Isn’t there some kind of animal that lives mostly on the brains of dead people?”

  “Worms?”

  Noah shakes his head. “Besides those.”

  “Cranium beavers?”

  “Yeah,” says Noah. “Those. We can eat those.”

  Ham and Japheth descend.

  The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Japheth suspects, the animals are unable to survive in solid form but instead revert to their natural plasmic state.

  “It’s hot as God’s spankings down here,” says Ham.

  “Shh!”

  “What?”

  “No blasphemy. We’re on the Ark.”

  There is a creaking, clunking noise, as God’s sea serpents beat a warning against the vessel’s side.

  “Right,” says Ham, sweating. He looks sideways. “Good oryx.”

  By the eighteenth sub-basement of the Ark, Ham and Japheth are forced to carve their way through the animals to make room for their passage. Thus die the bulwark buffalo, the crowball, and the cave goat. Thus dies the ghoul, spoken of in legend, and the icy blue beast in whose image the Slurpee was made. Thus die the elephant and the fungal bear.

  “Here,” says Japheth.

  The cranium beaver skulks defensively behind its dam of skulls, but this primitive instinct cannot save it from the knives of Noah’s heirs.

  “Good sheep,” says Japheth, on the way back up.

  “Baa,” insists the sheep.

  It’s so adorable that even Ham has to scruffle the sheep behind its ears.

  The rhinoceri have gone feral, long, and lean. In the distance, as the sons of Noah eat, they watch the primal battle between rhinoceros herd and megalodon, under a sky that is full of storms. The wav
es of that battle rock the ship, and the sinuous shapes of the rhinoceri lash and shimmer and in the sea.

  “They’re winning,” says Naamah, in some surprise.

  “There’s just a chance,” says Noah, in satisfaction, “that the megalodons’ll be another casualty of this rain.”

  “I’ll tell the others,” says Japheth.

  So he goes to the speaking tubes and calls down into the depths of the ship, “Let the rhinoceros be informed that their kind still live, beneath the sea.”

  And up comes the honking, and the bleating, and the wailing, and the howling, and the hissing, and the chirping, and the long pleased snore of the happy shipboard rhinoceri.

  “That means we could eat them,” says Ham. “I mean, the ones we have here.”

  “No eating the rhinos,” says Noah.

  “Fine,” sulks Ham, crunching on a barbecued cranium beaver leg.

  The last of the scissor-beaked night terrors drowns that day.

  “Look!” cries Ham, one silvery morning.

  “What?”

  “Elephants! The elephants didn’t die out after all!”

  Noah rubs his chin. “There’s no reason we can’t take another female on board to replace the one you carved through.”

  “Right on!”

  Shem and Ham operate the elephant crane to retrieve a backup elephant from atop Ayers Rock.

  “Baa,” the sheep remarks, conversationally, as it watches.

  “Animal on deck!” says Noah.

  Naamah and Japheth hurry the sheep back into the hold.

  Days and nights pass.

  “I can see them far below,” says Japheth, later that night. “All the people I ever hated.”

  “Are they trying to tame sea horses?”

  “They’re dead, Dad. They’re moving in great drifts through the night.”

  “Baa,” mourns the sheep.

  “Animal on—”

  Noah laughs a little and stops halfway through the sentence.

  “Oh, let it be, I guess,” he says.

  The sheep is on deck.

  The sheep looks down into the water.

  It looks at the hills and the dales of Scotland-under-the-Waves.

  Flick!

  A fish-tailed sheep skims to the surface of the sea.

  For a long moment, the land-sheep and the sea-sheep look into one another’s eyes.

  Then:

  Flick!

  The moment is gone; and the two sheep go, in their respective elements, below.

  In such manner as this: running, swimming, struggling, serving, seething, mourning, and loving does the world survive the rain.

  Rainbow Noir:

  the Mountains and the Sky

  The girl rides the horse through the sky. It’s the most wonderful and marvelous thing. It’s the most wonderful and marvelous thing and underneath them there are endless miles of cold air.

  Beneath that are the mountains, which we shall name Gray Death.

  Her name—the girl’s name, that is—is Annette. She’s saved the universe once or twice. She’s the kind who you just have to point and shoot, basically, and the universe gets saved. That’s what she is, and why she is, and why there have to be girls like her.

  As for the horse—

  As for the horse’s name—

  There’s an ice crystal bigger than the world. There’s an endless distance, and space. There’s a great and brooding thought that presides over it all,

  Like God had forgotten color, hope, and light—

  And we could call that “I Am,” or “the All,” or “The Lord that Dwells in Starlight.”

  But the horse itself, it doesn’t really have a name.

  It’s the most marvelous horse there ever was. A horse like that doesn’t really need its own name. Who could you confuse it with?

  It’s just, you know, the horse.

  People laugh, talking about magical sky horses and rainbows, sure, they laugh, but if you saw it there, its feet pounding against the nothingness, endless miles of cold air below and below that, Death—

  You wouldn’t laugh.

  You’d just think, in that moment, that it was the most marvelous and warm and most incredible thing you ever saw.

  One day, one day, once upon a time, before, the girl fell off that horse. She screamed. She’s very brave, but even a brave person can scream when you’re falling and the sky is rushing up around you and there’s only Death below. She screamed, and the world around her burned with its blues and its purples and its brightness, and her life flashed before her eyes in a series of twenty-minute shorts that in the end didn’t add up to very much—

  And that time, he’d saved her.

  That time, as she spun and fell and rainbows curled and twisted through the vastness of the void around her, the horse came down and lunged and caught her with his teeth and snapped her away from the touch of great Gray Death, and pulled her up and she twisted and she flung her hands around his neck and she sank her face into his mane and laughed.

  She did.

  She really did! Even with the awkward angles of it all.

  She could, and did, climb up onto his neck and back, because there really isn’t very much gravity when you’re falling, and at that particular moment in time they weren’t really quite done with the falling part of their precipitous descent and back to the flying that the two of them were about to do.

  The second time, though, the second time, he didn’t save her when she fell.

  She asked—

  With her eyes, she asked!

  But the second time, when she found herself falling, and the sky was everywhere around her in its blues and purples fading into the shadows of darkness, and grayness was reaching up from the ground as if to seize her up and drown her and shatter her like a teardrop on the stone, the horse, it just stood back.

  The ice is bigger than the world, and twice as far as anything.

  Her name was Annette, back then as now, but nobody called her that. Everyone called her things like “the rainbow,” “the rainbow girl,” or “hope.”

  She was the one charged with the preservation of love and hope and beauty and power and magic. She was the one responsible for providing all the things that people need to have within their lives, in a world that is sometimes very dark. And the mechanism of this charge was color.

  She would find places that were dark and colorless, in the world, in people’s lives, in people’s hearts.

  She would walk among the gray shadows and get the feel of them.

  Then she would bring the rainbow.

  There are a billion places in the worlds that are that needed her special touch. A billion, or even more; so it’s not too surprising that grayness still endures. It took her time to find each spot of darkness. It took her time to find it, and know it, and see its antidote, and make an end to it. It took her time, and there were so many different shadows that needed her to give to them that time.

  It probably makes a billion look small, really, the number of those shadows, if you actually could count each of them, and give each one its name. It’s probably laughable to imagine that it’s just a billion, like saying, “well, millipedes have at least one leg”—

  But a billion, at least.

  So that’s why it took her a while to see what had happened down on Earth.

  That’s why she missed the whole of World War I. She was in a flower garden, where the insects had corroded beauty. She was in the Crab Nebula, where monsters were threatening a noble Prince. She was in Kansas, helping a lost child, and in the oceans, healing a dolphin’s heart.

  She was polishing one of the stars in the endless sky when the trenches cut the world.

  She was in the kingdom of the cats.

  She was fixing a broken mountain.

  She was painting a butterfly when the Nazis came to power. She was painting a butterfly with vibrant colors, because the butterfly had gone gray.

  And she might have missed it;


  She might have missed it all;

  Save that butterflies can only wear so much paint before their wings will cease to fly. There are only so many stars that lose their glitter. There are only so many monsters, though they spawn eccentrically and at random intervals throughout the cosmos and its worlds; so many broken mountains; so many cats that have never ever been fed.

  Before the end of the war—before it had even really gotten started—she saw it. She saw what we were doing. She saw what we had done.

  She saw it, and said:

  “Here is a darkness. Here are gray shadows. I will walk among them and I will find their antidote, and I will bring the rainbow.”

  And tears were falling from her face, great rivers of tears, and breaking on the ground.

  “And not just here,” she said.

  The war to end all wars, well, hadn’t. But she decided, there and then.

  “I will heal this thing,” she said. “I will bring an end to wars.”

  Underneath the girl and the horse are endless miles of ice-cold air.

  Right now, as you’re reading this story, the horse and the girl are falling. They are a comet. They are a meteor. They are a dying, broken, tumbling leaf, a teardrop, a rainbow chunk of ice and fire, and they are falling towards Gray Death below.

  “It’s impossible,” said the horse. “Even for someone like you. Even for someone like me. It’s impossible, rainbow girl, that we could bring an end to war.”

  “It’s my quest,” she said.

  “It’s wrong,” said Terrence. He was her sprite. “It’s wrong. It’ll destroy us. They’ll find us, if we try to end their wars. They’ll hunt us down. They’ll take the Rainbow World away, make it theirs, make it a part of their earthly kingdom, where only shadows rule.”

  “But it’s my quest,” the girl said. “I have to heal this thing. I have to guard the beauty that the people of the Earth deny. I have to make them stop killing each other,

  and so cruelly!”

  But, oh! The sky was fading.

  It was twilight in the rainbow kingdom, the sun was falling to the west, and the horse looked up.

  “It will have to wait for morning,” the marvelous horse said. “Dear. You can’t do it today. You can’t do it now. You can’t stop people from fighting wars, forever, if you haven’t gotten any sleep.”

  “That’s so,” conceded the girl.

  So she went to bed.

  She went to bed, to let Earth wait just one last troubled night.

  And slept.

  And while she slept there were doings in the darkness, and gatherings, and quiet acts of diplomacy and treason; and when she woke, her people did not sing to her, as they had always done, when the Rainbow World was bright.

  Rather than sing, instead, they gathered around her, and their voices, they were low.

  “We shall show you,” said Terrence.

  She looked at him.

  “We shall show you,” said Terrence, “why it is that you cannot save the world.”

  And they took her down into the depths of the palace, and through the hidden passages to the caves where her servants labored, cutting forth light and hope from the lifeless stone, and to the Great Machine that had made her.

  And she said, “It’s made of ice.”

  She touched it with her hand.

  She said, as if in a trance, “There is a place, so very far from here! And a flake of ice, and oh, it is so very bigger than the world! And God—”

  But the horse was brusque.

  It bumped her in the back with its nose and made her turn away, and said, “This is where we made you, to save us, to be a girl from nothing and make brightness in our lives. We cut you out of ice and dolor and we brought you here, from nothing, to nothing, and filled your heart with fanciful lies. Like, ‘you are charged to save us, wielding light.’ Like, ‘you were made to fill our land with beauty.’”

  And she remembered—oh, she remembered, and of a sudden!—how she’d come into existence and out of nothingness as if formed off some great crystal made of ice, and curled about herself in some strange womb, and dreamt of foreign colors as shaved fragments of sprinkled stardust sprinkled by.

  She remembered how she’d dreamed, oh! such dreams! of something brighter than the endless hungry void. How she’d conceived a sudden brilliant conception, in that womb of ice, of what the murky dismal land some call “the world” could be.

  And how it had seemed to her that a lady made of light had spoken, had said, “Annette, will you go forth from this place to my land, my dismal land, that dwells under the hand of shadows, and make it bright?”

  The sprites looked down.

  In the shadow of the Great Machine, the echo of the work of ice that lives beyond the world, they could not speak; save for Terrence, who cleared his throat, and said:

  “You were our doll, little Ann. You were our toy. And we are grateful to you, for that you were bright and brilliant and rainbows. But you must not think you are a person. You must not think you are a living girl with breath and heart and hope and rainbows, who can stand against our purpose and our decision, and bring chaos to the land.”

  The breath left her.

  It was as if he had punched her in the stomach, and all she could breathe in was chunks of ice.

  “We had to make you,” he said. “But not the rainbow girl. The rainbow girl was fantasy. You were just a flake of snow.”

  She was falling.

  She was falling.

  The sky was rushing up around her, and she could not breathe, and there was gray and black and white jittering before her eyes, and she could not find the ground.

  She clenched around the emptiness in her heart, fell gasping, Gray Death opening below, and cast a glance, a single glance, up at the horse.

  He was marvelous, that horse.

  He was a wonder.

  He’d caught her, once, when she was falling from the sky, when she was plummeting and she thought that she would die. He’d caught her, and lifted her up, and brought her back to warmth and hope.

  Once, but not again.

  As she falls into herself, as she goes black and white, not even gray, within her heart and body, the horse, he does not save her. The horse, he looks away.

  And it all spirals away from her, leaving her empty of the rainbow, leaving her cold—

  Except that’s wrong.

  That isn’t now.

  She isn’t falling into herself, now. She isn’t on the floor of a cave under the rainbow kingdom, desperate with pain, broken by impossibilities.

  That isn’t now.

  That was a very long time ago.

  Now, right now, she is in a very real sky, and hope and truth have found her once again, and she is falling.

  She is falling because her horse has broken its leg.

  Her marvelous flying horse has broken its leg against a stream of ice, and so of course it cannot fly.

  As has been told before, the girl who fell became the rainbow once again. She’d been needed. It wasn’t OK, any more, to leave her in her cold sense of soullessness.

  A soulless girl couldn’t have saved the world from the death that had been coming.

  As has been told before, once she’d been made whole again, she’d refused to transform back.

  She’d understood—

  Somehow—

  That just because people told her she wasn’t a person, just because they’d shown her the womb of ice from which she’d come, and said, “Look, this is how we made you, this is why we made you, can’t you see that’s not how a person’s born?”—

  That such a thing can’t end the meanings that lived inside her heart.

  She’d spent years and years amongst the grayness there, and had found an end to shadows.

  And now she is falling.

  She’d gone to the man she’d thought had been behind it all—

  A pragmatic, dismal man; a man who had always sought to purge the colors from the world—
r />   And she’d thought that she could save him. That the goddess she’d become, that the endless seven-colored power she had birthed in herself, that the girl Annette (or, sometimes, Rainbow) would be able to save him from his misery and show him the wonder that was color, light, and hope.

  She’d tried, anyway.

  And maybe, in a way, succeeded.

  But it hadn’t done him any good, or her, as has been told; because, in the end, he wasn’t the villain of the piece.

  He wasn’t the villain.

  He was a villain, but not the villain, just another murky, dismal little man gone lost in shadows. In the end, all the light could buy for him was a single moment of forgiveness.

  The villain, if there was a villain, was a thing of ice and distance.

  It was something colder, far and cruel.

  It whispered this of others: that

  “They are not real.”

  It was God, perhaps, or a horse, perhaps, or a snowflake larger than the world; and it hung beyond all world and sound, and brooded, saying:

  “What there is, there is of me: there is the light I cast, there is the world of my imagining, there are the dreams I dream and the shadows I have made; and nothing else is real.”

  And if it thinks that it is the only reality, the only beauty, the only justice, the only right, then it has, perhaps, an excuse of sorts, for it is not merely cold, and it is not merely ice, this king of shadows and winter that dwells beyond the world.

  It is beautiful.

  It is beautiful, and it is endless, and it is marvelous, and it sheds forth every beauty; and the rainbow is refracted through that ice; and the world is made from the waters when it melts, and the dirt that it sheds, and the light and shadows it casts forth.

  It is self-contained.

  It is self-complete.

  And yet, in some contingency of motion, it has sent forth its avatar, its child, its element to us within the world, and with a spirit of great mercy. It has sent a piece of itself, an image of itself, a mirror of its icy vastness, to be the most marvelous thing, to live in the dreary world of its creation, to redeem it through the presence of the horse.

  It has sacrificed for us, the most terrible and deadly sacrifice; it has chosen to become involved.

  It is the pinnacle, is it not, the horse?

  Is it not the most marvelous thing in all the world?

  And did it not already risk itself—risk its perfection-in-itself, daring unimaginably—to descend beneath the darkness of the world and find a part of itself that dreamt of rainbows, and make a girl of it, and shelter her, and raise her against the darkness like a spear, and teach her the power of the rainbow?

  So if it thinks it is the only truth; if it thinks it is the only right; if it thinks there is no justice, that is not the justice of the horse; if it thinks there is no beauty, that is not the beauty of the ice; if it thinks that in the end there are nothing but its shadows and its dreams, then it has an excuse of sorts, for in a very real way it is the author of us all, or at the very least its agent and its representative, the mirror-horse of God—

  Most marvelous thing in all the worlds that are, and the brightest, and the best.

  And so she came, at the end of her journey, the rainbow girl, to the field of grass and flowers at the center of the city, to the last remaining place of color and brightness (before the rainbow had returned), where the horse still lived, and danced, and woke up in the mornings to laugh and play and sing; and to turn its eyes on her as she walked up, it seemed, and say, “Oh darling Ann: you have become my rainbow girl again.”

  And she knew.

  His voice was guileless, as it had always been, as if he knew nothing in all the world save love for others and self-praise.

  His voice was guileless, but still she knew.

  In the center of the crumbled world, in that last little piece of paradise, he frolicked, and he looked at her with eyes that made her melt, possessed her with a girlhood that overcame the goddess in her, loved her still, with brightness still they shone, and still she knew.

  She touched his mouth.

  She swung herself up on his back.

  She said, “Oh, my love, you have not forgotten me.”

  But she knew what he had done.

  They rose into the sky, then, didn’t they? They flew; or ran, at least, on the rainbow once again. They galloped out over blue skies and high above Gray Death.

  She knew he meant to throw her.

  “It was your lie,” she told him. “Wasn’t it?”

  Right into his ear; which flicked, of course, as if to cast a fly away.

  And on they rode in silence, far above the world.

  It made her breathless with joy and pain.

  “It was your idea,” she said, “to show me the Machine that gave me birth; and to tell me, ‘you are just a doll we made from snow, Annette. You are just a toy. — just a toy, and not a person after all.’”

  “It was,” said the horse.

  The horse’s shoulders rolled. It said: “You are.”

  Its voice was distant ice and starlight and it was pale against the sky.

  “What else could you be,” mused the horse, “than a reflection of Myself? What else is there to be, than light against the ice? So I realized, when you brought trouble to my heart. That you are the rainbow, or a girl, or a thing I made, or a thing I loved, but in the end, still, you are just a toy, and of my crafting, like all the shining world.”

  She wept for him.

  “And so,” said the horse, “I tore you down; and buried you in darkness; and then, for reasons elusive even to myself, I must have set you free.”

  She wept for him.

  She clung to him and wept for him, knowing that he meant to throw her, because he was the most marvelous horse in the world, and yet—

  “You do not know,” she said.

  And her voice was seven-toned, like the rainbow; and the tears that flowed from her were as a stream of ice; and he meant to throw her, then, he really did, but it went wrong, he went wrongfooted, and if you were to find a thing to blame for it, you might say, he slipped or struck his leg upon her tears.

  And his perfection was distorted.

  And his gait was broken.

  And suddenly, because a horse can’t exactly fly if it has a broken leg, he fell.

  It struck him as ironic that he would not have to throw her; that he was freed, in the end, of the need to cast her from his back to fall screaming to Gray Death. He would fall, and that would be an end to things. He would die, and the world would end, and nevermore a rainbow girl to trouble him or make a turmoil of his heart.

  Right now, dear reader.

  Right now, they fall—

  He falls—

  It falls—

  Right now, as you’re reading this story, the horse and the girl are falling, spiraling down through endless sky, with Gray Death looming up below.

  And because he is a horse of courage, after all, even maimed and broken, he opens one pure and perfect eye.

  She is not falling.

  It is terribly unfair.

  She is not falling.

  She is, instead, sprawled out with a hand outstretched—oh, moving downwards fast enough, and technically perhaps that counts as ‘she is falling,’ but she is descending as a skydiver descends, or a stooping bird, not as a mortal plummeting to her death—

  Prone upon the rainbow, outstretched beside him in the sky.

  Unfairly, she is reaching for him, supported by the rainbow, calling out over and over again for him to live—

  He squinches closed both eyes.

  The world moves far away, then farther, then farther again, until even the girl now seems to him twice as distant as the sky.

  Ice closes about him, and rainbows.

  “I’ve broken my leg, you foolish girl,” he says, and casts aside her power, and lets the wind and shadows carry him downwards to his grave.

  And there is a moment where the
ice shatters, as he strikes against Gray Death.

  There is a moment where the shadows seem to boil and drain away, plunging down through the jagged edges of the mountains and to drown some other land.

  There is a pure and crystal darkness, and finally, a light.

  The rainbow hits the mountains, dances about them for a moment amidst a rain of ice, strives as rainbows strive to lift the broken and the dead.

  And then, it flies away.

  from the “Rainbow Collection” of documents assembled during Congress’ 1954 investigation into various Un-American Activities on the part of Un-American Activities Bear.

 
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